Nigerian Foods for Diabetics – A personal story

My mum, grandma and I

As I mentioned in the about page, my grandma was very influential in my learning to cook, and as we both got older, I prepared a lot of her meals. As I grew older (older being still under 12), I learnt that she was diabetic. I don’t know that I completely understood what being diabetic meant in those early years, but I knew it meant that ‘mama’ ate differently from us. I learnt that she was to avoid sugar, and purely starchy foods. Really, a lot of things were forbidden for her. White rice, which is such a common staple in Nigerian homes was a no no. Eba/Garri was also forbidden. However, I know there are times she got tired of her regular diet and ate some of the ‘forbidden meals’ when she really really wanted some. I was often party to helping fulfill these cravings. 🙂 For example, my parents would come home to find that we had made chin chin during the day, which is just pure white flour and sugar and butter; all the things she should be avoiding! :O

I am no healthcare professional of course, and I advise consulting a doctor and a dietitian if diagnosed. Below, I discuss some of the meals which are considered good for diabetics which she ate. This list is by no means all encompassing.

Mama regularly had this for dinner. We usually bought the plantain flour amala which is healthier than the yam flour version. The year after high school where I was home, before I went to university, I made amala almost every day. I became so professional at it. I remember the first time we made it together, several years earlier, one of those days where it was just the two of us at home. I made such a mish mash of it, it was super lumpy and not at all well made, but she ate it all the same. 🙂

Ewedu is common to the Yoruba people of Nigeria. It is known in English as Jute leaves. It is prepared by cooking the leaves with potash and then, traditionally, “bashing” it with a specially reserved broom.

Amala & Ewedu

Amala & Ewedu
Photo Credit:

The brown cowpea or black-eyed peas are familiar to Nigerians. The brown cowpea is particularly common in Nigeria and she usually had this for breakfast. It is simply ‘boiled’ with onions till soft and tender and served with stew.

Beans and stew

Beans and stew
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Mama ate a lot of fish, partly for her health, and also because I believe she actually loved fish. One thing mama was famous for was her fish stew. The sauce would be so spicy that it literally hurt, but it was still so delicious that you wouldn’t be able to stop till you were done.

Garden Eggs/Igba
Fruits and vegetables should be a regular part of a diabetic’s diet. They are perfectly balanced with the right amount of fiber and natural sugars among other nutrients. She often ate garden eggs. Garden eggs are said to help lower blood sugar and have very few calories.

Garden egg

Garden egg
Photo courtesy

Quaker Oats
She occasionally had this for breakfast. Soak in water for a few minutes, and then cook on low to medium heat. Any brand works of course, Quaker is just the well-known brand.

Cooked Oats

Cooked Oats
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Vegetable soup
This was strictly green leaf vegetable soup with dried fish. Definitely with no egusi, and little salt if any. This was usually eaten with amala.

Wheat Bread
This was the only kind of bread she ate, and even then, very little of it, with stew. Ensure that it has very little sugar (1g or less per slice), high fiber (at least 2g/slice) and low sodium (220mg/slice or less). Don’t be deceived if it says whole wheat bread, or healthy, or whole grain or words like that. Always look at the nutritional content. See this guide.

A diet for diabetics is really a healthy diet. The objective is to reduce purely starchy foods, and replace with more wholesome foods and a lot of fruits and vegetables. In the coming weeks, I will discuss the Hallelujah diet, which can completely change your health around.

I don’t think there is a cure for diabetes yet, but Mama managed her diabetes for 36 years, well into old age, in Nigeria, where excellent affordable healthcare is hard to find, and at a time when living a healthy lifestyle wasn’t commonplace. So, do not despair, you can still live well if you’ve been diagnosed. Work with a dietitian to put together a plan that works for you or your loved one.

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    Trish 2 years ago

    Very nice and I will try some of these recipes. Best wishes to you in your efforts.

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    Josephine Yirenkyi 3 months ago

    Thank you for your advice on Diabetes from your Grandmother’ story, very encouraging. I like my Nigerian food but not knowing what to eat that will not agreed with my health. Now I know what I can eat, the Plantain Amala and Beans Also the the Garden eggs. Thank you so much for the tips and Advice. God bless you for sharing with us. Amen.

    • I’m glad you came across this post, and you found it helpful. If you come across further information that would be helpful to others, please feel free to share. God bless!

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